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Nesha Burghardt
Position: Assistant Professor
Campus Affiliation: Hunter College
Degrees/Diplomas: Ph.D. in Neural Science from New York University; B.A. in Psychology from UC Berkeley
Training Area: Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience
Research Interests: Neural circuits, anxiety, depression, fear conditioning, learning and memory, chronic stress, corticosterone, serotonin, dopamine, anorexia nervosa, addiction, adult hippocampal neurogenesis, cognitive flexibility, dietary curcumin, mouse genetics, behavioral neuroscience

Dr. Burghardt’s research is focused on understanding abnormalities in the neural circuits that underlie different psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and anorexia nervosa. Her lab uses behavioral neuroscience to model features of these disorders in rodents and modern molecular tools to identify changes in relevant brain regions, such as the amygdala and hippocampus. The emotional and cognitive symptoms that are modeled include changes in fear learning, enhanced social avoidance behavior, increased anxiety-like behavior, and impaired cognitive flexibility. There are currently four main ongoing projects in her lab.

  1. Serotonin-Mediated Modulation of Fear Learning: Using a combination of pharmacology, optogenetics, chemogenetics, and electrophysiology, her lab is investigating how serotonin in the extended amygdala contributes to sex differences in fear learning. 
  2. The Effects of Chronic Stress on Cognition and Mood: Her lab is studying the effects of chronic stress on associative learning and information flow in the underlying fear circuit. She is also investigating how a diet enriched with curcumin blocks the effects of chronic stress on social avoidance behavior.
  3. Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis and Cognitive Flexibility: Cognitive flexibility is impaired in numerous psychiatric disorders and is modulated by adult-born neurons in the hippocampus. An additional focus of the lab is to characterize the effects of dietary curcumin on adult hippocampal neurogenesis, cognitive flexibility, and other forms of neurogenesis-dependent learning.
  4. Neurobiology of Anorexia Nervosa: Using activity-based anorexia to model features of anorexia nervosa in mice, her lab is studying the neural mechanisms mediating risk and resilience to this disorder with a focus on dopamine.

Awards (2015-Present)
Presidential Travel Award (2019 & 2020)
Stewart Travel Award (2019)
Research Foundation Travel Award for Grant Development (2018)
Keystone Symposia Fellow (2017)
Hunter College President’s Fund for Faculty Advancement (2016)
MINDS Scholar (Mentoring Institute for Neuroscience Diversity) (2015)

Selected Publications
Beeler, J.A. & Burghardt, N.S. (2021) Activity-Based Anorexia for Modeling Vulnerability and Resilience in Mice. Bio-Protocol, in press.
Beeler, J.A. & Burghardt, N.S. (2021) Commentary on Vulnerability and Resilience to Activity-Based Anorexia and the Role of Dopamine. Journal of Experimental Neurology, 2(1):21-28.
Beeler, J.A., Mourra, D., Zanca, R.M., Kalmbach, A., Gellman, C., Klein, B.Y., Ravenelle, R., Serrano, P., Moore, H., Rayport, S., Mingote, S. & Burghardt, N.S. (2020) Vulnerable and Resilient Phenotypes in a Mouse Model of Anorexia Nervosa. Biological Psychiatry, Jul 16:S0006-3223(20)31744-3.
Luna, V.M., Anacker, C., Burghardt, N.S., Khandaker, H., Andreu, V., Millette, A., Leary, P., Ravenelle, R., Jimenez, J.C., Mastrodonato, A., Denny, C.A.,  Fenton, A.A., Scharfman, H.E. & Hen, R. (2019) Adult-born Hippocampal Neurons Bi-Directionally Modulate Entorhinal Inputs into the Dentate Gyrus. Science, 364(6440):578-583.
Bonnefil, V., Dietz, K., Aubry, A.V., Dupree, J.L., Burghardt, N.S., Casaccia, P. & Liu, J. (2019) Region-Specific Myelin Differences Define Behavioral Consequences to Chronic Social Defeat Stress in Mice. eLife, 2019;8:e40855.
Aubry, A.V., Khandaker, H., Ravenelle, R., Grunfeld, I.S., Bonnefil, V., Chan, K.L., Cathomas, F., Liu, J, Schafe, G.E. & Burghardt, N.S. (2019) A Diet Enriched with Curcumin Promotes Resilience to Chronic Social Defeat Stress. Neuropsychopharmacology, 44(4):733-742.
Garcia-Garcia, A.L., Canetta, S.E., Stujenske, J.M., Burghardt, N.S., Ansorge, M.S., Dranovsky, A. & Leonardo, E.D. (2018) Serotonin Inputs to the Dorsal BNST Modulate Anxiety in a 5-HT1A Receptor Dependent Manner. Molecular Psychiatry, 23(10):1990-1997.
Aubry, A., Serrano, P.A. & Burghardt, N.S. (2016) Molecular Mechanisms of Stress-Induced Increases in Fear Memory Consolidation Within the Amygdala. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 10:191.
Burghardt, N.S. & Bauer, E.P. (2013) Acute and Chronic Effects of SSRI Treatment on Fear Conditioning: Implications for Underlying Fear Circuits. Neuroscience, 247:253-72.
Burghardt, N.S., Sigurdsson, T., Gorman, J.M., McEwen, B.S.& LeDoux, J.E. (2012) Chronic Antidepressant Treatment Impairs the Acquisition of Fear Extinction. Biological Psychiatry, 73(11):1078-86.  Recommended by Faculty of 1000
Burghardt, N.S., Park, E.H., Hen, R. & Fenton, A.A. (2012) Adult-Born Hippocampal Neurons Promote Cognitive Flexibility in Mice. Hippocampus, 22(9):1795-808.
Sahay, A., Scobie, K.N., Hill, A.S., O’Carroll, C.M., Kheirbek, M.A., Burghardt, N.S., Fenton, A.A., Dranovsky A. & Hen, R. (2011) Impact of Increasing Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis on Cognition and Mood. Nature, 472 (7344):466-70.